What purpose does the extended description of Paul's time in the Catholic Hospital serve in All Quiet on the Western Front?
What purpose does the extended description of Paul's time in the Catholic Hospital serve in moving the novel's thematic elements?
The extended description of Paul's time in the Catholic hospital serve in developing several thematic elements in the novel. One of the most central is expressed when Paul observes,
"A hospital alone shows what war is".
Although the hospital is clean and offers amenities Paul has not seen since the beginning of his enlistment, its business is solely devoted to fixing what the war has destroyed - human bodies. Despite the availability of the best of medical care, men die in droves, their bodies ruined and riddled with disease brought on by the war. Paul says that
"a man cannot realize that above such shattered bodies there are still human faces in which life goes its daily round".
Humanity is forgotten in the carnage that is war, and Paul can do little else than wonder at the senselessness of it all.
Another theme that is developed is the irreversible damage done to Paul's entire generation. Even as they are being transported to the hospital, Paul is filled with self-loathing at his own filthiness, convinced that he is unworthy of the pristine sheets offered by the sisters. Once at the hospital, he finds that he essentially has forgotten how to communicate in a civilized manner with nurses who are so "wonderful and sweet". The men have also lost their faith, and their ability to appreciate nourishment for the spirit; when they are awakened by the sisters' morning prayers, Paul, like the others, is annoyed to have been roused from his fitful sleep, and savagely demands that the door be closed so that they may have peace and quiet, throwing a bottle violently against the wall when his request is initially denied. The war has rendered the young men of Paul's generation incapable of interacting decently with others and fitting into normal society. Paul says,
"Through the years our business has been killing; - it was our first calling in life. Our knowledge of life is limited to death. What will happen afterwards? And what shall come out of us? (Chapter 10).